Monday, July 16, 2007

Calling Shenanigans On The Video Game Industry

Among my many interests, playing video games tends to fit in right in the middle. While I've grown up with the hobby and still enjoy it, I'm not one of those people that have to own the latest consoles as soon as they're released or play my favorite games incessently. I guess you could factor me into the casual gamer category. That being said, I do find it fascinating to watch the ways and means that the different companies go about promoting themselves at their big yearly event - the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 for short.

This trade show, held every July, is the big coming out party for the next fiscal year's video games and the industry as a whole. All of the big announcements are made there along with all of the different game creation companies showing off their wares. This year's E3 was being promoted as a return to being just about the games and moving away from all of the hype and hyperbole of the recent years. That means all of the big extravegances were removed, from big flashing marquees to booth babes to easily attainable tickets for those not directly in the business. Thie year's E3 was a leaner and meaner entity but that didn't stop each major hardware company from tossing out an odd choice during their keynote presentations.

Since I'm in a nice mood, I'll start this off with Nintendo. Their shenanigan was more humorous than just plain wrong so it's not like I'm coming down hard on them or anything like that. My mental tick comes out of the announcement of the new game Wii Fit, which is obviously meant for their Wii system. This is a video game that is actually meant to get the player up and moving. It might be even more healthy to get them to put down the controller and play outside but that might just be splitting and unecessary amount of hairs.

Wii Fit will come along with a new peripheral device called a "balance pad", which looks like a standard scale except without the readouts. This pad is seperated into two sections that can read the amount of pressure being put on it and will help use that to figure out how well the person is playing. The game appears to be full of all kinds of excercise based games, including yoga and low impact aerobics.

All of this leads me to the point of my confusion. Back when the Wii was first introduced, there were reports all over the news about how the players in the US seemed to be getting a bit overzealous while they were playing. For example, they wouldn't feel the need to just flick their wrist for the Wii Bowling game. They would do the whole motion and sometimes even let go of the controller like it was the ball itself. With the speed and velocity that those throws might have had, it is totally understandable that the wrist straps on the controllers, which I'd bet weren't designed for that level of play, had a tendancy to break which would then send the controller flying across the room at a serious rate of speed.

Now we come to the "balance pad". If there was that much trouble with the initial release, what makes them think that we aren't going to do the exact same thing to this pad? I can just see someone firing up their Wii Fit and switching to the hoola-hoop game only to cause their pad to break when they start really swivelling their hips back and forth. Since the entire game is based off of that peripheral, it would seem to me that the level of enjoyment would decrease rapidly if the only means of controlling the game is broken.

My other shenanigan is actually more or less a two parter. It concerns both Sony and Microsoft and their attempts to make it seem like their hardware is the best availble and the best seller. Both use a large chunck of questionable math to reach their conclusions and that just makes them look worse for it.

The award for cutting to the chase has to go to Sony. A week ago today, Sony announced that they were reducing the price of their 60GB PS3 by $100, down to a retail price of $499. While everyone else said that it was a price cut, Sony said that it was only an adjustment due to the introduction of a new version of the PS3 that will come with an 80GB hard drive. This new model will be priced at $599 like the old one was. Why anyone would want to pay $100 just to have 20GB more of available storage space is beyond me but that's not what I'm talking about.

Sony had their big presentation Wednesday afternoon and part of the financial section talked about how the PS3 had been the top console seller at Amazon since the price change. This even made it into the powerpoint presentation showing on the big screen behind the speaker. Along with the console popularity, they mentioned how well their BluRay game discs sold and how much information they are able to fit on them. There was even mention of how Blockbuster now will only carry BluRay discs and will remove all HD DVD discs from store shelves.

For the former, it struck me as slightly disingenious to promote your console's level of popularity after literally only 2 days of a price reduction. The news of the reduction was still being seen as fresh with many news outlets so there is a good chance that many people hadn't even heard about what had happened. Try quoting those same figures in a couple weeks and lets see how true they still are. Also, it doesn't help to say that your sales have increased 9 fold since the price change when we have no clue what the starting sales numbers were. By using this math, you could say that the PS3 sales increased 100 fold the day after it's launch and it would still be true.

For the latter, it's very simple. BluRay technology is a media system created and designed inhouse at Sony. Next time they might want to slip that bit into the speech somewhere so they don't seem like they're trying to work around the corner before they even tell us the wall is there.

The last entrant in the shenanigan derby would be Microsoft. Their odd use of math looked immediately kind of dubious but became even worse in hindsight. During their presentation, it was stated that, during the period of January - June 2007, both their console and games were outselling their competitors at an almost 2 to 1 ratio. That being said, it was actually something akin to comparing apples to a piece of cheese and saying that you won. It is a given that the XBox 360 would have a larger install base and game sales number since the console had been out a full year by the time they started counting all of the data shown. You had two competing consoles launching almost simultaneously which tends to drag down the market for both. Toss in the on release shortages and that will seriously decrease the amount of sales. Like Sony, let's see what is happening at this time next year before we start patting ourselves on the back.

Now I know that shenanigans like the ones metioned about tend to appear at these kinds of presentations. These events are meant to build up the fanbase and also get a little bit of drooling out of the fanboys that have not purchased their wares. That being said, it just struck me as foolhardy to flaunt all of these numbers without actually noticing how wrong the ways and means of retrieving them was. It must be that new math that I hear so much about...


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